Originally posted on Goodreads on Feburary 8th 2013.
Fight like a man, or die like a slave.
Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he’s the “Mean Machine”, a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.
When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it “love”—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.
Imagine a modern Britain where at least two or three decades ago the politicians gave up on trying to keep up with the ever-growing prison population, chucked the fourth article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, and started to commute life sentences into slavery. Now people are both born and condemned to it. And it’s not just in Britain, it’s all around the world.
Brooklyn Marshall was born free and worked hard to build a good life for himself. Then a simple mistake, an accident, at the job took all that away from him. He was made into an example and his life was no longer his own. Now he boxes because it’s better than getting shot at in a war zone, and he fucks and is fucked because he is told to. He is used. He’s chattel that can talk.
”You haven’t resigned yourself to slavery yet, have you?”
“No. And I never will.”
It’s cruel to give hope to a such man, but that’s exactly what Nathaniel Bishop does.
I’m not a fan of romanticising slavery, and I’m not a fan of any relationship that’s based on a severe imbalance of power, but I’m always curious to see if the author can make it work. If those obstacles of differing wealth, social status, and culture can be overcome believably. Realistically. Even in urban fantasy.
It works here because Brooklyn has never accepted his status as anything less than a human being. It works because both Brooklyn and Nathaniel recognise how wrong their situation is, and because both are fighters in their own way.
Much of the story focuses on the boxing—again, something I know nothing about—and how it reflects Brooklyn’s growth as a character. He’ll never see any of the winnings, but the fighting he does is for himself. He’s broken and beaten both in the ring and out, and he is affected by it, but he’s also a survivor. What doesn’t kill him makes him stronger, and the final fights show this vividly.
If I hadn’t struggled with the beginning of the story—it was good but not amazing—the ending would have earned Counterpunch its fifth star. Voinov opted out of the fanciful and kept it realistic.
P.S. The story includes triggers for <spoiler> rape </spoiler>.